This review first appeared in The Morpheus Tales Supplement #17.
Saucer Country, an ongoing comic book series from DC’s Vertigo imprint, is a political thriller wrapped in the mythology of UFOs, aliens, and men-in-black conspiracies. Such pop culture phenomena say a lot about the societies that produce them, so it makes sense that writer Paul Cornell uses this largely made-in-America corner of the paranormal milieu as an allegory for the immigration debate that now rages along the United States’ border with Mexico. The series’ New Mexico setting is appropriate, since the focal point of that controversy, the Southwest, is also the mecca of UFO lore, being home to Area 51 and Roswell.
The protagonist of Saucer Country is Arcadia Alvarado, a fictional governor of New Mexico set to declare her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. A consummate underdog, she stands to become the first female Hispanic divorcee in the White House. On the eve of announcing her run, Alvarado and her ex-husband, Michael, suffer a blackout while driving through the desert, and both soon come to suspect that their lost time represents an alien abduction.
Alvarado’s inner circle receives her claims with mixed reactions. Her campaign staff runs the gamut from the skeptic Chloe Saunders, a petulant Republican political strategist reminiscent of Ann Coulter, to the believer Professor Kidd, a disgraced Harvard lecturer visited by mysterious entities who assume the form of the couple from the Pioneer 10 plaque. Alvarado plans to keep her abduction a secret, and to use her presidency to investigate and combat the alien menace. Of course, things might not be as they appear.
Extraterrestrials have often represented real-world outsiders, but which outsiders varies with historical circumstance. The foo-fighters of World War II expressed Allied aircrews’ fear of the enemy, and the flying saucer craze of the 1950s likewise sublimated Cold War xenophobia. The conspiracy theories that went mainstream in the 1990s expressed populist distrust of the ruling class. So when Saucer Country writer Cornell uses aliens to represent the role so-called illegal aliens play in the political discourse of the border states, he updates the UFO phenomenon to place it not just in the context of current events, but also within the United States’ national mythos as a country built by immigrants that, at the same time, holds itself apart from all other countries.
Cornell, himself British, offers an outsider’s perspective on American politics that adds a fine point to his satire. His characters’ dialogue is snappy, and the scenes have a brisk pace. Artist Ryan Kelly keeps up through bold compositions and flowing panels, with a style grounded in a sketchy realism that makes occasional excursions into the abstract, which complements Saucer Country’s narrative shifts well. Although his characters’ facial expressions are sometimes too stoic, Kelly’s drawings are otherwise impeccable. Giulia Brusco’s vibrant colours infuse the images with a certain eeriness, especially in the more outlandish sequences, where green under-lighting has never been more appropriate.
Overall, Saucer Country is a solid read for anyone interested in the ways otherworldly beliefs and real-world politics intersect.